SEO myths have been around for probably as long as search engines have existed. Often they are the result of a misunderstanding about Google, something insignificant that’s blown way out of proportion, or it may simply be the perpetuation of outdated advice.
The most nefarious type of SEO myth is the one that occurs when correlation is mistaken for causation. For example, you perform an optimization and experience a rise in rankings. You then assume your effort was primarily responsible for the change, discounting any other possible factors.
Confusing correlation with causation isn’t limited to search engine optimization. The investment world is full of examples, the most famous being the myth about hemlines and stocks. SEO is an investment, too. And following these myths can have seriously negative consequences, financial and otherwise.
So, how do we dispel these myths?
For this list of SEO myths I’m turning to John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google. What better way than getting information from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Here are 25 of the most common.
1. Google has a Ranking Algorithm
I don’t mean to split hairs, but Google doesn’t have just one algorithm. Thinking this way belies the complex nature of Search and thus SEO.
Here, John is talking about SEO ranking studies, which we’ll get to later. Having poured over hundreds of his tweets, I have yet to see him refer to Google algorithms in the singular. As he says, “it’s never a single calculation with static multipliers. These things are complex, and change over time.”
It’s something to think about next time someone claims to have “cracked Google’s algorithm.”
2. SEO Studies Reveal How Google Ranks Content
SEO studies are no doubt appealing, and the promise of having analyzed thousands, if not millions of data points is very appealing. According to Google (John Mueller) there are “over 200 factors for ranking.” So how do you set up a control to effectively isolate them? Even if you could, ranking factors don’t exist in a vacuum. So any results would be artificially created.
At best, what these studies uncover is some interesting correlations. And as we all know, correlation is not causation. As John, says “while it’s always fascinating to look at compilations like these, you should never assume these are, or are similar to, ranking factors in search.”
3. SEO is Dead
The infinitely complex nature of search and the lack of valid SEO studies may lead you to believe that SEO is dead, or at the very least ineffective. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, more pages means more problems, with the complexity of those problems increasing with website size. That’s correlation, not causation!
As John says, there’s “more to SEO that just being able to index content… SEO isn’t dead.”
4. PPC Helps SEO
So, SEO may not be dead, but it sure can use some help from PPC. Because everybody knows PPC helps SEO, right? While PPC can be helpful in getting a new site off the ground through increased traffic and awareness, there’s a “strict separation (at Google) between paid & organic in search.”
There’s a certain segment of SEOs predisposed to believing that backlinks can solve everything. However, “there’s a lot more to search than just backlinks.”
Once upon a time, links were a significant part of ranking. Although those days are gone, that outdated advice still gets perpetuated. So let’s be clear, “links are definitely not the most important SEO factor.”
Okay. Maybe it’s not about backlinks per se, because Google doesn’t count them. The, it’s all about the juice that you get from the links you got, right?
Wrong. Forget about this thing you call link juice. “It’s very likely obsolete, wrong, and/or misleading.”
If it’s not quantity, then it’s quality, right? And that’s where links from educational institutions shine, because everyone knows that .edu links are more valuable. NOT! If you’re spamming edu sites with your links, they’re likely to get ignored.
Ultimately, if you’re obsessed with getting .edu links, then you have “bigger problems to worry about.”
8. URL Structure is Important for SEO
I’ve seen many content marketers fret over whether to include post category in their URL. “URL structure itself rarely matters” except in two cases. So keep your eye on the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff.
9. Exact Match Domains Rank Better
Does anyone still build this type of website anymore? In case there are, let me clear the air. There are no “special bonuses to rank for keywords they include.”
10. Keywords in URLs are Critical
Nope. Take a look at any powerful page and you’ll see that it ranks well for dozens of keywords which aren’t anywhere to be found in the URL. As John explains, “the SEO effect of keywords in the URL is minimal once the content is indexed.”
11. Domain age is a Ranking Factor
“No, domain age helps nothing.” Enough said.
“Just to be clear, Google doesn’t use Domain Authority *at all* when it comes to Search crawling, indexing, or ranking.” Yeah, but what’s he really saying?
13. E-A-T is a Ranking Factor
In the sense that E-A-T is something that can be directly measured and thus ranked, no.
As John Mueller explains, there’s no “HTML element, there’s no word count limit, no keyword-ratio, no magic keywords that need to be included.”
There are many benefits to promoting your content on social media. Ranking well in Search isn’t one of them.
15. Content Quality is Overrated
You may have a different opinion than Google as to what constitutes quality content, but rest assured their aim is to offer the best experience possible.
Despite your best efforts to get low-quality content into their index, Google will work harder to make sure it stays out.
16. Longer Content Ranks Better
No it doesn’t. You think so because you read about it in an SEO study, which themselves are myths. Maybe you rationalize it as longer posts mentions more of the “right” words more often. That’s another myth that’s coming up next.
Google doesn’t use word count for ranking.
So logically, it follows that having the same number of words as the top-ranking content won’t make your page rank first.
17. Keyword Density Improves Ranking
No, Google doesn’t rank content based on how often a term is mentioned. Therefore, adding more terms by itself isn’t going to improve your ranking. The whole idea that there’s a magical number is so preposterous.
Perhaps once upon a time, keyword density worked. Definitely not anymore. Now it’s a case where SEOs misinterpret something Google says and continue to perpetuate the myth.
18. LSI Keywords Help You Rank
I often wonder who made up this myth and coined that term. LSI keywords can’t help you rank because they don’t exist. Really!
19. TF-IDF Helps You Rank
No it doesn’t. I’ve written previously about how TF-IDF doesn’t work. Here’s John making fun of TF-IDF, LSI keywords and Domain Authority at the same time. Basing your SEO efforts on any of these metrics is a lost cause.
20. Google Applies a Duplicate Content Penalty
There are lots of legitimate reasons for websites to have duplicate content. Although they’ll index duplicate content, they won’t display it because it negatively affects the Search experience. But that’s not the same as having a duplicate content penalty.
21. The Keywords Meta Tag Affects Google Rankings
Metadata is data used to describe the content of a page. One of those data points is the keywords meta tag. Once upon a time search engines used this tag to know what a document was about. But that was last century and this is now. “Google doesn’t use the keywords meta tag for search.”
22. XML Sitemaps Boost Rankings
No it doesn’t. And submitting your sitemap daily won’t help either. Maybe instead you should spend that time productively creating new content or updating existing pages. Just a thought.
23. Bounce Rate can Affect Your Ranking
No it doesn’t. A visitor validly bounce from your site because your page contained the answer they were looking for. So it’s not a reliable ranking metric for Google to use. As a result, they don’t.
Twitter isn’t the only place John Mueller hangs out. You can find him on Reddit, too. In this case, he’s responding to a post about bounce rate.
24. Core Web Vitals Are(n’t) a Significant Ranking Factor
CWV doesn’t replace relevance, but they’re more than a tie breaker. As John explains in this Reddit comment, “depending on the sites you work on, you might notice it more, or you might notice it less.” Your role as an SEO is determining which of the many SEO optimization opportunities makes the most sense to pursue.
Also, core web vitals “more than a random ranking factor, it’s also something that affects your site’s usability after it ranks (when people actually visit).” So it’s great at identifying issues that discourage visitors from converting.
25. Google Uses Google Analytics Data in Rankings
No they don’t. That wouldn’t make any sense since not everyone uses Google Analytics.
See? I told you they don’t.
SEO myths will continue to persist. The 20+ SEO myths on this list represent the most common ones, but they’re by no means the only. I’m sure some (many) will continue to persist long after you’ve read this list. Myths have a funny way of doing that.
So the next time you encounter an opinion that you think could be an SEO myth, just ask yourself “what would John Mueller say?” Better yet, think it through critically first, then check.
Unless, you believe that John has an ulterior motive to spread SEO disinformation and prevent everyone from discovering how Google ranks. In which case, neither he nor I can help you.
By the way, did you know that I saw Elvis in a Montreal bagel shop last week?
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